Brett OkamotoESPN Writer3 minute read
LAS VEGAS – They really don’t call Merab Dvalishvili “The Machine” for nothing.
Dvalishvili (16-4) picked up the biggest win of his career on Saturday as he edged former champion Petr Yan (16-5) in a five-round unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night in inside the theater at Virgin Hotels. All three judges scored the 135-pound fight against a 50-45 shutout for Dvalishvili, who emerged as a 2-1 betting underdog.
The Georgian bantamweight put in a historic performance in the win. He attempted a UFC record 49 knockouts, breaking the previous record of 33 set by former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in 2012, and managed 11 of them. According to UFC stats, Dvalishvili also landed 202 of 401 total strikes, compared to Yan’s 87 of 155.
“I said it before – it was personal for me,” Dvalishvili said. “I tried to stay professional. My team was telling me I was taking this fight differently. Thank God I went pro. He called me a zero. Who’s the zero now?”
There was definitely some bad blood between the two all fight week. Dvalishvili, who has a Georgian flag tattooed on his chest due to the UFC’s recent restriction on fighters marching to the Octagon with their country’s flag, has made it a point to speak out against the ongoing war between the Russia and Ukraine. Yan is fighting outside the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
A large number of Georgian fans attended Dvalishvili’s performance on Saturday and relished his victory over a former UFC champion and pound-for-pound contender.
“I’m so proud, thank you to all Georgians who came here and watched from home,” Dvalishvili said. “We are only five million, but we are strong. I am so happy to be here and to represent my country.”
Even those who predicted an upheaval in Dvalishvili would have found it difficult to envision it that way. Dvalishvili stayed on Yan from bell to bell, constantly pulling one-legged takedowns and piling him up in hard-hitting exchanges. He turned every second of the fight into a crushing affair, attacking Yan with leg kicks, jabs, right hands, clinch knees and elbows.
He appeared to injure Yan’s left leg with a kick in the second round and swelled his right eye with punches midway through the fourth. Yan didn’t look terribly tired from Dvalishvili’s pace, but he looked extremely uncomfortable with the volume being thrust upon him. It’s Yan’s fourth defeat in his last five appearances after starting his career 15-1.
As for what Saturday’s win sets up for Dvalishvili, that part is less clear. He is a close friend and sparring partner of defending champion Aljamain Sterling, who also beat Yan twice in a rivalry that took place between 2021 and 2022. Fighting under Ray Longo and Matt Serra, the two friends have clearly indicated that they would not each fight. another, even if a belt is in play.
“He’s my brother and the world champion,” Dvalishvili said of Sterling, who was in his corner on Saturday. “Whenever he decides to move up the weight class and fight anybody, after that I will fight for the title. Of course I want to be champion.”
Sterling is scheduled to defend his title against two-weight champion Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 on May 6 in Newark.